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July 24, 2010

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Toiling in vineyards for luscious fruit

MANY varieties of Fengxian grapes are ripe for a bumper harvest this summer, and visitors can go to Wusi Farm and pluck to their hearts' content.

The farm on Hangzhou Bay is one of Shanghai's largest grape-growing areas. The prime harvest time is from late July through August.

The organic farm offers almost 20 types of grapes with a wide variety of flavors and levels of acid and sugar. Some are crisp as lotus root and smooth. Some contain hints of rose flavor.

Since the grapes are organically grown, there's no need to peel the grape as the skin is the most nutritious part.

"Grape skin is rich in resveratrol, a phytoalexin that has anti-aging properties, helps control blood fat and strengthen the immune system," says Chen Jinxing, head of the research team for organic grape-growing in Fengxian. He is also director of the Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology under Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences.

Organic grape-growing was started in 2003 by the Shanghai Agriculture and Science Commission. From a 1,000-square-meter pilot study field it has expanded to almost 27 hectares of grape vineyard. "No fertilizers or chemical pesticides. The grapes we plant are absolutely safe and eco-green," the director says.

Each grape shed is equipped with several flap-type anti-insect solar lamps and each cluster is covered with a paper bag, which keeps out insects and dusts.

The yield of every mu (667 square meters) is strictly controlled within 750 to 1,000 kilograms, which is only around one-third of ordinary grape yields, but sugar content is three times that of regular grapes, Chen says.

Though August is prime harvest time, grapes can be picked from late June to early October. Early ripening, mid-maturation and late ripening grapes are planted.

Lovers of grapes can choose from among almost 20 varieties.

The Lizhamate introduced from Russia has a very thin skin and is very sweet with little acidity (tannin/sourness). Sweet and crispy, it's sometimes called the "jujube grape."

The green seedless Xile is an early ripening variety from the United States. Sugar content is extremely high, more than 16 percent.

The dark-purple Xiahei from Japan tastes sourly sweet with sugar content of around 20 percent. The Jumeigui has a rich flavor and fragrance of rose, while Zaoheibao is refreshingly sweet with a delicate scent of lychee.

With hanging clusters of green jade, purple agate and colors between, the lush vineyard is a pleasant place to visit.

Visitors who want to pick grapes will be given a basket and snippers, and experts will show them how to choose the ripest fruit.

City folks can also adopt grape vines for 200 yuan (US$29.50) each and take part in the entire process of cultivation from April to November, involving watering, pruning and picking.

The farm also provides home-delivery service of two packages (5 kilograms each) to the adopter's home, if they are too busy to harvest the fruit themselves.


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